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Wild buzz: Sting in the blooms

Beautiful hedges charm the viewer but may harbour a deadly sting as these are favoured refuges for Russell’s vipers.

punjab Updated: Oct 09, 2016 10:23 IST
Vikram Jit Singh
Vikram Jit Singh
Shiv Kumar,Russell’s vipers,English Labrador


Beautiful hedges charm the viewer but may harbour a deadly sting as these are favoured refuges for Russell’s vipers. Gardener, Shiv Kumar, who tends to the blooms and borders at the Sandhawalias’ kothi in Chandigarh’s Sector 5 had a most unnerving encounter with a juvenile viper last week. Just a year back, the Sandhawalias’ English Labrador, Merlin, was bitten by an adult viper four times and was lucky to emerge from the prolonged and debilitating effects of venom. Sector 5 fronts the Sukhna lake’s reserve forests and serves as an extension of the vipers’ range due to abundant vegetation, hedges and sprawling bungalows. Callous neighbours and municipal authorities have left undergrowth and weeds unchecked, which affords refuge for several serpents.

(From Left to Right) Shiv Kumar was carrying flower pots when a viper bit him on the right thumb last week; last year, on September 26, an adult viper bit a labrador, Merlin, on the face repeatedly; and the viper that bit Merlin died four days later on the road outside the Sandhawalias’ kothi after it was run over by a vehicle. (Photos: Vikram Jit Singh)

Kumar was lugging six empty flower pots in the garden when the encounter took place. The 1.5-feet-long juvenile viper was hiding in the pots stacked on a 5-feet-high wall. The viper was probably in an ambush mode for garden lizards that hide in the pots. ‘’I always check the pots before putting them on my shoulder as I know lizards hide here. Two lizards ran out of the pots and climbed a tree adjoining the wall. I felt assured and started carrying the pots to another part of the garden. I felt something crawl on my shoulder as I walked but could not see the creature. Suddenly, I felt a sharp bite on my right thumb and thought it was a lizard. As I looked back, I saw the snake’s head dangling from the pots behind my neck. I dropped the pots and ran,’’ Kumar told this writer.

As luck would have it, the viper also ran in the same direction and got entangled in Kumar’s legs just a few yards away from the broken pots. But this time, it was too traumatised to stop and take another nip at the terrorised gardener. The viper fled to safety and has not been found till yet. Kumar started to develop the symptoms of haemotoxic envenomation and the Sandhawalias rushed him to the PGIMER and bore the expenses of his subsequent, successful treatment that included administration of 12 vials of anti-snake venom serum.


Grasshopper warbler at Jawaharpur. (Photo: Rajive K Das)

Tricity birders are roving the countryside and adding newer species to the checklist for the Inter-State Capital Region (ISCR), which covers a 50-km radius around Chandigarh. The latest discovery is of the Grasshopper warbler, a migratory bird found sparsely in India, and this addition has taken the ISCR checklist to an estimated 415 species, give or take a few. Chandigarh-based DRDO scientist and passionate birder, Rajive Das, discovered the warbler at Jawaharpur village in Derabassi on October 2.

‘’I was looking for Tricoloured munias in tall reeds when I saw this bird from a distance. The light was poor and approach was not possible because of a ditch. I clicked some photographs before it vanished in the reeds. It seemed to be either a Grasshopper warbler or a Lanceolated warbler as they look alike, are great skulkers and have never been reported from this area. Later, it was confirmed that it is a Grasshopper warbler, a species reported from a few places in Haryana, UP, Gujarat, West Bengal and Maharashtra. It is likely to be found near grasslands/reed beds in the vicinity of paddy. It is an encouraging discovery for this region and I hope we can find many such elusive birds, provided the biodiversity is conserved,’’ said Das.


Dogs and drakes can cut both ways in the proxy war that rages in Kashmir and cross-LOC tactical operations conducted at night. After the recent surgical strikes across the LOC, the former 15 Corps Commander Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain (retd) has written that assaulting commandos avoid villages due to presence of dogs and villagers. Terrorists are also known to issue directives in certain Kashmir villages not to breed dogs as they give away their nocturnal arrival and departure, thus alerting Army informers. On the other hand, army outposts in villages often rear pie dogs and domesticated ducks/geese as counter-terror operatives since these are excellent ‘chowkidars’ and detect subtle disturbances. Company commanders leave notes in their diaries asking the replacement officer to ensure dogs and ducks around the outpost. Dogs and ducks can be effective bio-agents in an early warning system the Army seeks to fortify as it braces for fidayeen attacks after the surgical strikes.

I learnt of this first-hand while accompanying troops of the 7 Rashtriya Rifles, 3 RR and 13 Mechanised Infantry on a five-hour march through alpine forests to target terrorists in the Shangus valley (South Kashmir) in a July 1998 operation. I was then posted in Srinagar as a reporter for a national English daily and covered numerous Army operations ‘live’.

The operation had been launched by the 1 Sector RR Commander Brig Raj Mehta, who had deployed the better part of a brigade strength in a pincer movement. I marched off with 7 RR at 11pm from Khundru. Troop movement from different directions was synchronised to cordon and hit the target village before first light. Wary of IEDs and ambushes as we stole through the inky darkness, officers were most disconcerted when dogs barked as it gave terrorist sympathisers warning of troop movement. Not only could the troops be ambushed with small-arms fire, but terrorists hiding ahead would slip away from their safe houses.

Anyway, as we got to the target village at 4am, the terrorists had an inkling and had already fled. We do not know if dogs had given the game away in that operation but commanders in the field swear these creatures pose a very real threat to the success of major stealth operations. Just imagine the fate of the commandos of the 4 and 9 PARA (SF) battalions had the Pakistanis got an inkling of their ingress during the night of September 28-29.

First Published: Oct 09, 2016 09:52 IST